Assume a university allows students to audit classes informally, so they're not enrolled and don't pay, but they attend classes anyway. Obviously, no one has obligation to allow these students to attend anything and therefore doesn't even have the obligation to check their exams and such.

In case this is relevant, my intention is for math classes.

(12 hours ago, I was rejected for a math PhD program, and the professor told me I could audit. I told the professor that 6 months ago I asked the math department if I could, but it said no. The professor told me "Don't ask; just go!" The professor suggested I audit some classes and try to do some of the classwork. I didn't think of many questions about this, but I think I won't go since the commute is 4 hours by train or 70 us dollars by taxi, and I can ask all my questions on stackexchange anyway. Thank God for the Internet)

I don't think students really learn from just attending the classes even if they ask questions in class. Exams of course are great ways to learn, but what I had in mind is asking further questions either during the professor's consultation hours or in further auditing the teaching assistant's tutorial classes.

It sounds like the questions of auditing students in class, tutorial or consultations is taking up time that could instead be used for the registered students, but I think anyone who speaks up is making a contribution by asking something anyone could wonder. Therefore, the professor or teaching assistant could clarify to the rest of the class before anyone else would ask, which actually saves time.

(I don't want to first ask the professor because it might be disrespectful if the answer is a definite no anywhere in the world. If the answer here is maybe/yes/double check with the university/go ahead and ask the professor/"Don't go; just ask", then I will be inclined to ask the professor)

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    Have you asked the professors teaching the courses if you can audit their class, or just a different professor?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 21:59
  • @BryanKrause Thank you! The professor in the parentheses invited me to audit his class that starts next month. There, I don't believe he'll prevent me from consultations. He suggested other classes, that also start next month, to audit, but he is not teaching those. I have not asked those professors; I do not even know the professors yet.
    – BCLC
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 23:29
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    Auditing is a formal relationship between you and the university. — Yes, but sitting in a room where there just happens to be a lecture (and empty seats) is not.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 4:57
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    No formal. You pay some money to the university for an "audit" and you get a line in your transcript for the course that says so. No grade is assigned.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 11:43
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    Universities have a definition of it. If you use the word differently you just confuse things.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 13:26

2 Answers 2


Since it hasn't yet been mentioned in an official answer, let me note here that, in the US, at least, auditing is a formal relationship between a student and the university. You need to pay for the privilege of sitting in on a course as if you were a regular student. You get a line in your transcript marking the course as audited and receive no grade. Whether you are allowed to take exams (for no grade) or not depends on things, perhaps just on the professors willingness to grade them. If the course is a large lecture, with break-out sections, you are probably permitted to attend these as well and ask questions as any other student would. Among other things, formal registration allows the professor to get an official list of who should be present in the classroom.

Actually, a professor could get in some trouble for letting you sit in with no registration of any kind. Not only are you taking up resources that others are paying for, there are liability issues. If you are hurt in some way, or have a grievance, or if you harm another student when the university doesn't know about your presence, the situation can be quite dire.

I think it is a mistake for a professor (in the US) to permit this. But if they permit it, they will probably also permit you to come to smaller sections, though you will be consuming even more time that should be devoted to others. But, I think, an individual professor permitting this without the knowledge of the university is a poor, possibly dangerous, practice.

However, the question of "taking up resources" is a delicate and subtle issue. If such a student asks a question in such a situation are they "consuming resources" or are they "contributing to the class"? Normally, my view is the latter. Questions from students contribute to the learning of everyone, provided they are properly thought out. This is true independent of the official status of the student.

I'll also note that in the past (maybe in the present) in at least a few graduate schools, a math student would never consider taking an advanced course unless they had (officially) audited it first - possibly more than once. In such places, such courses can be extremely rigorous, so you want a heads up (and practice on exercises) before you take the course "at risk" (i.e. for a grade). Part of that was just student paranoia and obsession over grades, but the courses were very rigorous requiring a lot of self-learning.

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    Speaking only to your last paragraph, as someone who completed a mathematics PhD in 2014, I have never heard of graduate students auditing every advanced course before taking them for credit. I have no data to back this up but I'd be very surprised if this was a widespread practice. Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 18:37
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    @GregoryJ.Puleo, no, certainly not wide-spread. I said "a few graduate schools". I was never tempted to do that as I went to a more reasonable place. Hmmm. There was one course, though, ...
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 18:54
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    Indeed, I didn't mean to imply that you were calling it widespread. Since it holding in "at least a few graduate schools" is at least consistent with the practice being widespread, and since I also don't know how widespread the practice was prior to my own grad school experience, I figured it was worth chiming in. Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 22:18

The easiest answer to this would be to simply ask the lecturer. A simple "Hi, I'm auditing this class, is it ok if I drop by your office to ask a few questions during office hours, if you have time?" would probably suffice. If the lecturer doesn't mind, then you're good to go.

I would probably not agree to auditing students attending office hours/tutorials, especially in large classes. Generally speaking, auditing classes is fine, as long as you do not put additional strain on the lecturer/course apparatus. If I start accepting office hours from one auditing student, I'll have to do so from all of them. If my guest students start attending tutorials and take up other students' time from actual registered students, I would probably intervene.

This is me, and other lecturers can have different attitudes towards their auditing students. The best thing to do is to ask.

  • Good enough for me. I may consider asking the aforementioned professor then, but maybe after Christmas.
    – BCLC
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 22:44
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    @JackBauer To start you should also really get permission from any individual professor to audit their course in the first place. "Auditing" a class doesn't mean you just show up these days, you typically have permission to be there. I think Spark wrote this answer with the assumption you were part of a formal auditing process, which normally means you are A) a paying student, but B) not getting course credit for this particular class.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 23:33
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    Yep, auditing students should probably be registered to the institution. If not - it's really up to the professor unless someone complains about you. If some other student calls you out to the admin, you're out, and the professor will have a meeting with admin...
    – Spark
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 23:41
  • Spark and @BryanKrause I didn't I say I was going to just do it or wasn't going to ask anyone. I said I would ask the aforementioned professor. I guess I would ask the professors of the classes as well. Anyway, this is probably pointless because the commute is too long or expensive. Thank you!
    – BCLC
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 23:50
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    @JackBauer Understood, just wanted you to make sure you knew that you should first ask the professor whether you can audit their course, rather than starting with whether you can attend office hours, etc, and certainly not starting by stating "I am auditing your class..." if you, you know, aren't.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 23:53

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